Some Words of Advice

Earlier this week, Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, took some heat for offering Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) some unsolicited advice on how to be a good member of Congress.

Ryan said he had advised Ocasio-Cortez to “take it easy, just watch things for a while, don’t ruffle, you know, see how it works first.” He then noted, “I don’t think she really listened to a thing I said.”

People on Twitter used the opportunity to mock Ryan, essentially saying who would want advice from Ryan.

Now I am not a fan of Paul Ryan, but the mere fact that he served for 20 years in the Senate suggests he learned a little bit about how Washington works and how to successfully run for re-election. And he certainly accomplished more than just serving in the Senate for 20 years. He was Speaker of the House and a Vice Presidential candidate, reaching the highest levels of politics.

Somewhere in there, there’s got to be a few nuggets of wisdom, particularly for someone like AOC who is so new to politics and Washington. I’m still not sure what to think of AOC, but to completely ignore the advice of those who came before you seems to smack of hubris.

I think this could have been an opportunity for Ryan and AOC to sit down with each other, to learn from each other, and to work with each other. But AOC’s response seems to have shut the door on such an opportunity.

The Ryan-AOC story also got me thinking about what advice I could offer to people.

First, I would never offer advice unsolicited, since unlike Paul Ryan, I don’t think I have accomplished anything significant career-wise that would warrant freely dispensing words of wisdom. But if someone were to ask for my advice, my first piece of advice would be offering the names of people who I believe could offer better advice than I could about how to succeed in academia.

After that, my advice, in no particular order, would be pretty generic:

  • be nice
  • be grateful
  • have a positive attitude
  • maintain a sense of humor
  • put in an honest day’s work
  • keep learning
  • put family first
  • be humble
  • build relationships
  • show compassion for those less fortunate
  • seek out a mentor

Now there have been many times over my career when I did not follow much of the advice shown above. For example, as I’ve written about before, I’ve done a terrible job of building relationships. But for the most part, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes and move on.

I wish I had had someone like Paul Ryan reach out to me when I first got started as a college professor to offer me some words of advice based on his or her experience.

And so I’d encourage AOC to take advantage of this opportunity; perhaps she’ll end up ignoring most if not all of Ryan’s advice, but at least it’s a chance to start a bi-partisan dialogue, something that is desperately needed in Washington these days.

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